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NC war widow on 'trip of a lifetime'

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Mark and Nickayla Garner on one of their many trips. align=right

http://66.225.205.104/JR20100531.mp3

This is the first Memorial Day since the death of Captain Mark Garner last summer. He was serving in Afghanistan. Today, family and friends will place flowers at his grave in Elkin, North Carolina. But Garner's wife Nickayla and a few of their close friends won't be there. "We're gonna celebrate Memorial Day doing what he loved more than almost anything in the world and that's travelling and going to countries that most Americans have never even heard of," says Nickayla, by phone from Germany. They're calling it the "Mark Garner Memorial Adventure." "It's the trip of a life time," adds Nickayla. She and Mark both grew up in Elkin, but the town wasn't big enough for them. During the six short years of their marriage, they travelled constantly. On their honeymoon - between Mark's first two deployments to Iraq - they spent a month in Asia. And they were thrilled when the Army sent them to a base in Germany. "Every single weekend - every moment possible - he and I were constantly gallivanting all over Europe," says Nickayla. Then Mark deployed to Afghanistan. He couldn't travel, but he could plan. Nickayla says their last conversations consisted predominantly of Mark talking about the trip they would take of the Baltic States after his deployment. On July 6, 2009, Mark's humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. He was 30 years old. When Nickayla received Mark's personal items from Afghanistan, she found a surprise in his wallet: A piece of paper detailing each of the countries they would visit, the mileage from their home in Germany and how many tanks of diesel they would need. Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, Kiev and the other destinations are scrawled carefully in Mark's handwriting. Total kilometers: 5,219. He even translated the distance into miles: 3,236. His calculations show they'll need 93 gallons of fuel for the trip. And at this very moment, Nickayla's on the road, following the path her husband charted, in painstaking detail, from the battlefield. "Yes, we're doing the exact same itinerary that he had planned," says Nickayla. "This is his trip." And she's taking a big photo of Mark to hold up in pictures along the way. She knows he's watching her with that "famous Mark Garner smile" and laughing. "He's saying, 'That's my girl, enjoying life and doing everything I had asked her to do if something would happen to me,'" says Nickayla. There were actually quite a few things Mark asked his wife to do if he died. Nickayla says he was a meticulous planner. "We discussed every single detail of his funeral down to me wearing a black hat." They also discussed what he wanted her to do with her life after him. "He gave me his blessing to do what it is I thought was right to continue and live life," says Nickayla. Mark told her to buy three burial plots. He wanted her to be able to remarry. "Of course wanted me to be buried next to him, but he said he was fine if I also was buried next to my second husband," says Nickayla, choking up. "I think that's pretty selfless. Not many men can say something like that." "He knew I would need to live life after him, so that's what I'm doing," says Nickayla. "I'm going to these countries, but it's just not as much fun without him and to share it with him. It's bittersweet." Nickayla Myers-Garner is honoring the memory of her husband Captain Mark Garner this Memorial Day, taking the road trip he planned for them before he was killed in Afghanistan.